I've gone to more than my fair share of American weddings, so I thought I'd be a professional wedding guest by now. Nonetheless, I was ill prepared to attend this traditional Polish wedding. It was a special event that required me throw out any preconceived notions I had about how much I could eat, drink, and dance.
Four meals, countless times on the dance floor, and who knows how many vodka shots later, I finally hit the sack at four in the morning. I'm just glad my commute to bed only consisted of a short elevator ride.
The Polish Wedding Rundown
Joanna and I attended the wedding of one of her best friends, also named Joanna, and her Belgian groom Daniel. For the sake of not confusing the two women, the bride will henceforth be called by her short name, Aśka (pronounced ah-shh-ka for my non-Polish speaking friends). It's like our English equivalent of Bob being short for Robert, for example.
We drove to the city of Lublin the day before the wedding. Since Joanna was the maid of honor, she had some last minute preparations to do for the bride. Aśka had also just arrived with Daniel earlier the same day, after making a 15-hour drive from their new home in The Netherlands.
A quick side note: One of my favorite things about Europe is that most countries are very accessible. Many different cultures, cuisines, and languages are just within a day's drive. The continent is so easy to explore, there's really no excuse not to.
The wedding party went over the detailed schedule for the next day and set up the dining room. Once everything was all set, Joanna and I had the night to ourselves.
We walked around the Lublin city center for a bit and got some ice cream for our troubles. Polish people sure do love their summertime ice cream. It is literally sold everywhere. Some streets have 2 or 3 ice cream shops lined up one after another. It's pretty awesome.
We then opted to do a little pre-game. After all, we wanted to be well prepared for the next day's festivities. That was my excuse, at least, and I'm sticking to it.
The Traditional Polish Wedding Ceremony
Poland is a very religious country. In fact, around 90% of Polish people consider themselves Catholic. So it was no surprise that the wedding took place in a Catholic church.
At 3:30pm, Aśka and Daniel walked down the aisle, followed closely behind by Mathias, Daniel's brother and best man, and Joanna.
It goes without saying that there are several major differences between a traditional Polish wedding and a traditional American wedding. One such difference is that in Poland, the groom has only his Best Man, and the bride has only her Maid of Honor.
There were no additional groomsmen or bridesmaids to speak of.
Mathias and Joanna sat behind Daniel and Aśka during the mass and ceremony, which lasted for a little less than an hour. Once the priest officially declared the groom and bride to be husband and wife, the celebration began immediately, right outside the church.
Polish Wedding Gifts
Guests walked out of the church first and waited on both sides of the door. As the newlyweds walked out front and center, they were showered with the modern Polish version of confetti.
Rather than pelting Aśka and Daniel with coins or rice like people did back in the day, the guests at this wedding decided to blow bubbles at them instead. It was a fun little change of pace to the Polish wedding tradition. Besides, soap bubbles don't make a huge mess like rice or real confetti would have.
After the soap bubbles bursted, the guests lined up in a single file and gifted the newlyweds with wine and money. Tradition used to call for flowers in lieu of wine here. Everyone loves flowers, but wine was a good call. Aśka and Daniel will obviously be able to enjoy the wine for a lot longer than a day or two.
Notably absent is a wedding registry. Whereas American newlyweds pick out gifts for guests to buy ahead of time, Polish newlyweds generally expect to receive cards with cash inside.
When I told Joanna about the American wedding registry, which was put in place to prevent duplicate or unwanted gifts, she was surprised. She had no idea that it existed, and asked me why Americans had to complicate the whole gifting process.
I didn't have a good retort. She's got a point there. The only thing I could think of is just that Americans are excited to tear open presents, kinda like kids who look forward to seeing a whole bunch of boxes under the tree on Christmas morning.
Salt & Bread and First Drink
Once again, the guests arrived at the hotel ahead of the bride and groom.
Both sets of parents waited by the hotel entrance. Aśka's mother held an elegant loaf of bread in her hands as a symbolic gesture of abundance. Once the newlyweds arrived, they each took a piece of bread and dipped it in salt before eating it.
The other symbolic gesture was the couple's first drink. Aśka's father handed each of them a glass of champagne. They proceeded to chug the drinks and throw the empty glasses over their shoulders. I was told that if the glasses break, then the couple will have good fortune down the road. If the glasses don't break, however, the best man would have had to finish the job.
Fortunately, the champagne flutes didn't stand a chance against the hard concrete floor, and Mathias didn't have to step in and save the day.
The Abundance of Food
American newlyweds usually disappear for a couple of hours after the ceremony to take photos. Not In Poland. We all went straight to the dinner table and enjoyed a 3-course meal of appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
There was certainly no shortage of food. On top of the meal we were served, there were plenty of side dishes on the table, plus a whole buffet of fruits and desserts, and a huge cart of traditional Polish meats.
And that's not all. A couple of hours later, we were served a second meal of fish and vegetables.
And a couple of hours after that, we got our third meal of ribs and potatoes.
Finally, at 2 in the morning, we received our final meal of beetroot soup and croquette.
Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, I was extremely stuffed. Happily stuffed, I might add. The food was very delicious. This carnivore was a happy camper.
At a traditional Polish wedding, gluttony is definitely the norm, not the exception. I made sure not to worry about the scale for a good few days afterwards.
There's no better way to wash down all the food than with plenty of vodka shots. At Polish weddings, it's all about the vodka. Sure, there was wine. There was even Belgian beer that made the 15-hour trek. But on this night, vodka was the drink of choice.
On top of that, we imbibed on bimber, the Polish version of moonshine. It was a pretty strong drink, to say the least, but it was also pretty damn good. Maybe I should be glad that I didn't really notice it was about 120 proof.
"Oczepiny" at Midnight
The real wedding festivities began at midnight, when the newlyweds went through what's called "Oczepiny". There isn't really an English translation for this word, but it involves activities that Americans are familiar with.
Things like cutting the wedding cake, tossing items to unmarried guests, etc.
In American weddings, brides usually toss a bouquet of flowers and grooms usually toss the bride's garter (I still have a garter sitting in a box somewhere).
In this Polish wedding, the bride tossed her veil, and the groom tossed his tie.
Different stuff, same concept.
Calling it a Night
More than 12 hours after the wedding began, I finally had to call it a night. It was 4 am, and I was completely wiped out.
Joanna and I went upstairs to our room and passed out in 5 seconds flat. I was so tired, I couldn't even be bothered to get up for breakfast the next morning. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.
Speaking of rooms, here is the final interesting factoid of the day. Since Polish wedding parties last well into the morning, the newlyweds are pretty much required to book every out-of-town guest a room for the night.
This is also why the parties are generally held in hotels.
Bonus Video of the Traditional Polish Wedding
I hope you've enjoyed reading about the traditional Polish wedding from a foreigner's perspective.
Now, it's time to see it in motion.
Below is a 15-minute video I made of the wedding. It obviously doesn't encompass everything that happened between 3:30 pm and 4:00 am, but it does give you a good idea of how the night went down.
You won't see much drinking or dancing in the video. After all, I was still a guest, and I wanted to be a part of the experience. I figured it would have been a bit rude to drink with other guests while holding vodka in one hand and a camera in the other.
Let's just say that, surprisingly, I was able to hold my own. And I wasn't even hurting the next day. It was fun to relive the good old days for a night.
That's a wrap from an epic celebration.
I can't wait to host my own traditional Polish wedding next year. I hope it will be as grand as this one.
Until next time,